Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Are You Happier Than You Were In Your 20s?


Me, looking ahead on the morning of my 30th birthday.

There was a wonderful Ask Polly column last week that addressed aging and whether it truly does “get better” as we get older. The letter-writer asked Polly: “Do you feel better now than you did in your 20s? Does anything make more sense? […] Do you know who you are, pretty much?” Polly’s response was really great — go read it, if you haven’t — and it made me wonder how others might answer the question(s). If you’re older than 30, would you say you feel better now than you did in your 20s? Are you happier? Do you feel you know yourself better?

My feelings are this: I am happier now than I was in my 20s, for sure. I know myself better, I feel more stable (financially and emotionally), I’m not as concerned what others think of me, my relationships and friendships are stronger, I’m not as self-centered, I feel a lot more gratitude, I understand my strengths and weaknesses and use them to my (and others’) advantage and improve them when I can, and I don’t let small grievances get me down as much as I did in my 20s. But life isn’t any easier now than it was then. It’s actually a lot more complicated, and I would not have been able to handle the responsibilities I have now when I was 25 (at least, not very well). It’s also a lot more work to stay fit and maintain good health. Hangovers are really bad now. I don’t get anywhere near as much sleep. And if I get an hour to myself on the weekend to do my own thing, it’s a luxury. (This, of course, has more to do with parenthood than getting older, but a lot of people who get older add parenthood to their list of new identities and responsibilities.)

I miss things about my youth, but I wouldn’t go back if I had the chance (well, ok, maybe for a weekend, I would, just to party, sleep in, and spend hours farting around with my friends without a care). I wouldn’t trade what I have and know now for the life I lived fifteen years ago. Would you?

Related:

30 Things I’m Glad I Didn’t Do Before I Turned 30

30 Things That Will (Probably) Happen in Your 30s

21 Things That Will (Probably) Happen to You in Your 20s

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    MissDre September 26, 2017, 12:42 pm

    Pretty much agree with you 100%.

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  • avatar

    ktfran September 26, 2017, 1:07 pm

    A RESOUNDING YES! At around age 32/33, I finally accepted myself as is, with the help of a therapist of course, and truly started to love myself. I cultivated the life and friendships I wanted and stopped caring what everyone thought of me. I also finally learned to advocate for myself. Once I let go of all my many hangups, I started to flourish. At 35, I met the husband. At 36, I received the promotion I tried hard for several years to obtain. In six months, my debt will be paid off (thanks to said promotion). There are still downs, but they have been a lot easier to handle.

    I don’t know if it’s age, but for me, it was acceptance. Like I said, I spent quite a few years (late 20s and most of my 30s so far) with a therapist.

    Alright, now I’ll read what Wendy had to say.

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    • avatar

      ktfran September 26, 2017, 1:13 pm

      Ok, I read what Wendy had to say. My hangovers are BRUTAL now. And I also think my response would be a lot different were we to add children into the mix. Or an illness came up. Or one of us lost our jobs. Right now and for the last several years, all has been well. With the work I’ve been doing on my mental health, I hope I’m better able to handle life when things aren’t so peachy. We will see. I’m sure you all will read about it.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny September 26, 2017, 1:45 pm

    I definitely feel happier now in my 30’s than in my 20’s! (I’m 32, will be 33 next monday!) In my 20’s, I was unsure about my career, feeling unsettled generally about my life and what I wanted. I was kind of a pushover with people. I also was living mostly paycheck to paycheck in an expensive city, so that didn’t help either. I also remember I was *very* lonely. When I was around 29, having gone through a pretty bad breakup and seriously looking at possible shifts I could make in my life, and also going to therapy, I started feeling more like I just didn’t GAF about what other people thought and started standing up for myself more.

    I feel like now I have more confidence and am just a bit more wiser. ALSO I have TERRIBLE hangovers if I drink too much hard alcohol. (UGH) It’s also harder for me to lose weight, and I am more achy the morning after a big workout. I’m more at peace, I think. I also make more money now so I’m working on paying off all of my debt within the next 2 years (student loans in the next 5 months!). I agree with Wendy, though, that life isn’t really any easier, it’s just as hard but in different ways.

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    • Moneypenny

      Moneypenny September 26, 2017, 1:47 pm

      Also, I am not married nor do I have children, so I can’t speak to that. I can’t imagine having a child when I was in my 20’s! And I’m not ready for them now. But probably in due time. I’m in no rush.

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  • avatar

    AW September 26, 2017, 2:02 pm

    I’m 36 and I am so much happier now than I was in my 20s. The 20s are all about figuring stuff out, and while that can be exciting and fun, mostly it was just confusing and painful. I had some good times, but I also had a whole lot of angst. I understand my values and motivations so much more clearly now than I did then. While I’m sure I still have much to learn and things I can improve upon, mostly yeah, I know myself and I’m pretty happy with who I am. I’m with Wendy – I’d go back for a party weekend (hangover free!!), but I wouldn’t want to go back and do it all again. Been there, done that, got the tshirt, moved on.

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  • avatar

    Randee September 26, 2017, 2:21 pm

    I tell everyone that being in my 40s is better than my 30s and my 30s were better than my 20s. Turning 30 I felt more comfortable in my own skin, in my own life (I was able to get a mortgage, which was a big goal), in my career. My DGAF level rose considerably. My 40s have been awesome — I got married, felt more financially secure — but I will say it’s tinged with the sense that it might be downhill from here, in small but growing ways, health-wise. I’m not ill by any means, but I can feel the structure being creaky. Also, I have found myself being a little more shy about taking risks now that I’m in such a good place. I fight that every day, because it’s insidious, but you couldn’t pay me to be in my 20s again. Well, maybe you could but I’d have to know what I know now.

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  • avatar

    TheHizzy September 26, 2017, 3:32 pm

    Besides my back going to shit in my 30s I like them more than my 20s.

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    • avatar

      ktfran September 26, 2017, 5:00 pm

      Mine too. My lower back… I have so many problems.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor September 26, 2017, 4:11 pm

    I miss having a full head of hair.

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  • freckles

    freckles September 26, 2017, 4:43 pm

    I’m 32, and I’m not sure if I’m happier than I was in my 20s. I’m more financially stable (which means I get to travel more, and to better places), and I like my job a lot more. However my early 30s has been tough, as a lot of my friends have started to move to the suburbs and have babies, so the friendships aren’t as strong or plentiful as they once were.

    In my 20s, I had two super solid strong friend groups, and I would hang out with one of them almost every weekend. We had so much free time to just hang out and be together and do things. And now everyone is so busy. People have babies. They live farther away. Some have just drifted over time. It makes me sad, and I’m struggling with that a little bit.

    My current core friend group is three couples, and I know the other two couples are/will be trying to have babies, and I don’t know what’s going to happen then. I’m a little scared to be honest, because I don’t want things to change. I know Mr Freckles and I need to make some other childfree friends, but making friends as an adult is hard. And I like the friends I have 🙁

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  • avatar

    A September 26, 2017, 4:52 pm

    Happier about some things than in my 20s, like finances in better shape, but overall not happier because getting older means dealing with big issues like serious illnesses, deaths, issues related to aging parents – much more of this type of thing in your 30s and 40s than in your 20s.

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  • Lianne

    Lianne September 26, 2017, 5:09 pm

    My co-workers and I were JUST talking about this yesterday! I am so much happier now than in my 20s. The IDGAF factor is a huge reason why. I’m also more established in my career, found a man to share my life with who is a true partner – not like the dbags I used to chase after. Perspective, man. It’s amazing.

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  • avatar

    RedroverRedrover September 26, 2017, 5:21 pm

    I don’t know. I guess I’ve always been fairly happy. I do like that I have a partner now, one who feels like a perfect fit. And of course I have my kids. But aside from love-life issues, I was also pretty happy in my 20s. Maybe it’s just my personality type. I wouldn’t go back to my 20s though. I loved it, but I want to go forward, not back.

    I feel like I didn’t have the kind of “getting to know myself” and “feeling comfortable with myself” that other people mention happened in their 30s. But I think what happened to me is I had a really, really hard time in highschool. And then when I hit university, that’s when I was finally seen as the real me. And I’ve been that person ever since. And I’ve known that person and been comfortable with that person since. Of course I’ve learned and matured along the way, but nothing major I would say. Nothing that I can look back and feel like I’m a very different person than I was back then. Does no one else feel this way? I think it’s because I was sort of pushed into a persona in highschool that didn’t fit, and when I broke out I was like “fuck it, I’m just gonna be me”. That was when I was like 18-19. Also I was pretty unpopular in highschool so I guess I never worried about fitting in, because I just didn’t. When that’s the situation, you have nothing to lose by just being yourself, I guess.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom September 28, 2017, 6:28 am

      This is basically me. I think I was born happy. I’ve never been an angsty person. I’ve liked every decade of my life. I’ve enjoyed my 20s and 30s and 40s and I’m having a great time in my 50s. I never did care what other people thought. I’ve never tried to be popular, just to have good friends and I think that makes a huge difference in life.

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      • avatar

        RedroverRedrover September 28, 2017, 9:19 am

        Oh thank you! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there. I was starting to think I was a freak of nature. 🙂

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  • avatar

    Kate September 26, 2017, 5:35 pm

    If I could go back to 20 knowing what I know now? Hell yeah, I would! I don’t think the timing would have been right for my husband and I to meet before my mid-30s anyway, so, sure, I’d go do my 20s again and do it right this time. But just to go back and relive it? No.

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  • avatar

    Ange September 26, 2017, 6:44 pm

    I like my 30s but my 20s were a helluva lot more fun. My health is a bit precarious now, I guess. It doesn’t just make me feel older but it reminds me that my grandfather died quite young due to complications from the same thing I have and it’s getting closer every day.

    I was always happy, outspoken and pretty assertive so I don’t know, I don’t worry so much about that. I just miss being fit and having my health. I don’t get hangovers and never really have so even that isn’t part of the equation lol.

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  • TheLadyE

    TheLadyE September 26, 2017, 8:23 pm

    I am happier now that I’m in my 30s, and mostly that’s because I was trying to fit into being something I wasn’t well into my late 20s. I’m kind of a late bloomer, I guess. I know who I am and what I want and what I have to offer. I do miss my 20something body/metabolism and I’m starting to see more and more white hair which is terrifying, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that life goes on, time does heal, and things do tend to come back around. So that’s good.

    However, I do wish that time would slooooow right on down because I don’t like seeing my parents and my little dog aging. I feel like I have to enjoy and savor every moment because I won’t have them around forever and that makes me sad. :-/

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  • Crochet.Ninja

    Crochet.Ninja September 27, 2017, 7:57 am

    100% my life now is better than in my 20’s. I just turned 40 this year, and there’s no way I’d go back to when I was younger. even as my body starts to betray me with aches and pains, I know me now.

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  • avatar

    Anon from LA September 27, 2017, 11:11 pm

    I’m 31, and I’ll admit, I was happier in my 20’s. I moved to a different city two years ago, and while I hoped the change would make me happier, it’s actually had the reverse effect. My career has also sort of stalled, so I’m depressed about the fact that I haven’t achieved more by the time I hit 30. And there’s the fact that my husband has started to think about kids, and I dread even thinking about having one.

    And I think I was just more naive in my 20’s. I thought I could achieve anything I set out to do, and that everything would work out in the long run. But now I seem to have lost that sense of hope that used bolster my dreams and goals, and that’s been a painful process.

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  • avatar

    K September 28, 2017, 1:17 pm

    My 30’s have been great so far, I’ve gotten to do a lot of traveling and I met my boyfriend a couple of months before turning 30. 20-22 when I was still in college was wonderful. I absolutely loved college, living with my friends, learning, having fun, etc. My 20’s from 23-28 wasn’t as great as my 30’s though, I’d say. I was working shifts, I picked the wrong guys and pined after unavailable guys, I hadn’t really developed any hobbies because of my weird schedule, etc.

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